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Becoming by Sissi Westerberg

1 november, 2013 01:08

BECOMING

Sissi Westerberg
7 September – 13 October 2013

Sissi Westerberg’s solo exhibition at Uppsala Art Museum – Becoming – possesses direction. It poses questions. It analyses. It is empirical, but at the same time builds upon a tradition.  One could say that the ”Second Wave of Feminism” from the 1970s and onwards has helped develop a new artistic attitude, new work methods, new aesthetics and new perspectives for an entire generation of contemporary artists. This is where Sissi Westerberg comes in. Her artistic works bear clear references to important feminist artists such as Janine Antoni (b. 1964) and early women’s rights activists such as Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941). Sissi Westerberg’s comments to her forerunners are at times so apparent that it would be more appropriate to refer to them as “homages”. She brings to the fore historically viable questions in a contemporary context with her starting point in personal dreams and subconscious urges. Traditionally feminist attitudes interact with identity crises and contemporary consumer critique and are furthermore emphasized by way of the genuinely human body. With regard to method and expression Sissi Westerberg’s art is above all corporeal.

Becoming is both the title of the exhibition as well as a series of works she been engaged in for some time. It all started with her work with jewellery and ornaments, where she worked in an area on the boundary between artefact and natural ornaments, between man-made forms with the purpose of decorating and marking a distance to nature and the more “undesirable” body ornaments such as body fluids and bodily orifices. She makes use of forms that seem both seductively attractive but at the same time hint at the most taboo-laden parts of the human body. It is as though the body has oozed out of it’s protective skin and concealing clothes, and transformed itself into brooches and necklaces. As an extension of the theme, Sissi Westerberg has created an alter-ego character, a middle-class woman wearing a trench coat. She has been involved in a number of performances at various venues including Rejmyre Art Lab where she is co-director. This female character provokes and is provoked by the distinction between nature and culture, object and abject, and norm and taboo. The video documentary Drawing a Line caused quite sensation at the Liljevalchs Spring Exhibition in 2011. It featured a performance where the trench coat wearing woman paints a bright pink line on a wall with her own body. How she does it, and what body part she uses as a brush are questions left unanswered.

The woman in the trench coat is on the verge of letting loose the most animalistic urges within her. She has decided to let go and to stop being so sensible.  What would happen if the animalistic side of her took over, or perhaps if nature took her over, took her back?, Sissi Westerberg asks.

Janine Antoni’s body art offers us several points of entry into the works of Sissi Westerberg. The body as object and tool. Where Janine Antoni painted the gallery floor using her hair as a brush and hair colouring as paint (Loving Care, 1992) Sissi Westerberg took up the theme anew in her piece Drawing a Line.

Where Janine Antoni used her teeth to sculpt in chocolate and fat (Gnaw, 1992), Sissi Westerberg recently used a similar method in her latest work A House of One’s Own, where she used her teeth to sculpt a small hut, perfectly suited to her body measurements.

Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One´s Own (1929) deals to a large extent with the need of all creative people to have a life space of their own and naturally, in the case of women, basic personal security and equality as well. In the piece A House of One’s Own, Sissi Westerberg expresses a purely physical need for her own space without really knowing why. Does the space offer her freedom, or does it constitute a cage? It is the urge itself to create that dictates her actions.

In her series of works entitled I am Open, Sissi Westerberg questions the design of everyday objects. Why do they look the way they do? Why do they not resemble us humans? The artist tests the idea that the purpose of functionalism’s design idiom was to distance us from nature. Through the simple, reduced, undecorated and minimalist design, we become more human and less threatened by the disorganised and transient. In several works the artist subjects us to meaty and body-related ”taboos”, and in doing so offers the body an even more corporeal presence. Why is it so difficult for us? What taboos and cultural archetypes are we shocked and disgusted by?

To quote the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925 – 1995); art is our way of creating new experiences – through affects. This is the how Sissi Westerberg works as well. She illuminates tabooed subjects and lets them chafe between attraction and affect.

Becoming is an exhibition about ”coming into being”, of encountering oneself and moving forwards.

 

ELISABETH FAGERSTEDT

Museum director/curator

Uppsala Art Museum